Friday, September 7, 2018

1980s computer game: Sonar Search

This advertisement hails from page 31 of the October 1984 issue of Computer Gaming World. It's for Sonar Search, a strategy game for the Commodore 64 that was being sold by Signal Computer Consultants of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The game, available on either tape or disk, cost $29.95, which is the equivalent of about $72 today.

Here are some excerpts from the advertising pitch for the game:

  • THE SUB IS DIRECTLY BELOW! You stab the fire button and watch as 6 depth charges arch into your wake. Several long seconds pass before they explode, sending six domes of white water to the surface. The message "SUBMARINE SUNK" flashes on the screen.
  • SONAR SEARCH is a "fast-action" strategy game based on anti-submarine warfare. You are the commander of a group of three destroyers sent to intercept a pack of 5 enemy submarines.
  • SONAR SEARCH makes full use of the high-resolution graphics, multicolor and audio capabilities of the Commodore 64. Programmed in machine language to provide immediate response to your commands, SONAR SEARCH is realistic, educational and entertaining.

Here are some screenshots of the game, taken from a YouTube video posted in 2017 with the comment "looks boring."

It looks to me like it might not even be as exciting as Intellivision's Sea Battle, which came out in 1980. But at least we can add the information, from the screenshots, that the game author was Thomas B. Levine.

Elsewhere, I discovered an archived 1986 review from Antic magazine for a different Signal Computer Consultants game — Train Dispatcher. At the end of that very positive review by Jack Mindy is this paragraph:
"According to the brochure included with Train Dispatcher, Signal Computer Consultants will be releasing a Super Dispatcher simulation, a Northeast Corridor simulation with Metroliners and all, a Locomotive Switcher simulation with high-resolution graphics — and their only non-railroad offering, an underwater Sonar Search simulation. All these forthcoming programs are scheduled for 1986 release on Apple, IBM and Commodore, but NOT for Atari. Is it time for Antic readers to start writing letters again?"
Train Dispatcher appears to have had a long life as a popular piece of niche software into the early 2010s, according to this Softrail webpage (to which Levine is connected). It appears that the original game was later adapted to help run elaborate model railroad layouts.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

America, in a mystery snapshot

Here's a slice of post-war America that has just about everything but the apple pie.

The mystery black-and-white snapshot, printed on Kodak Velox Paper with a deckle edge, features a boy doing his best Mickey Mantle impression in a grassy yard in suburbia. After the picture, family members probably loaded themselves into that car in the driveway. I'm not a car person and I'm terrible at identifying them, but I did a little research for you, dear readers, and my best guess is that it's a 1950s Buick Century. Please feel free to correct me in the comments section.

But for me, the true lodestar in this photograph is the house. I'm a sucker for mid-century homes, and this one looks like a cheery place to reside, with its screened porch and big windows looking out into the yard. It's a little before the era of the sunkenarium, perhaps, but I bet it has some cozy features inside, plus plenty of natural light. These California ranch-style homes were also called ramblers, and Wikipedia has this to say about them:
"The house style fused modernist ideas and styles with notions of the American Western period of wide open spaces to create a very informal and casual living style. While the original style of the ranch was very informal and basic in design, starting around the early 1960s, many ranch-style houses constructed in the United States (particularly in the Sun Belt region) were increasingly built with more dramatic features like varying roof lines, cathedral ceilings, sunken living rooms, and extensive landscaping and grounds."
Hmmm. So maybe there was a sunkenarium inside! This kid would sit in there and sort his baseball cards and comics while listening to Yankees games on the radio. Or perhaps he followed one of the popular radio serials of days, such as "Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons" or "Mr. President."

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Book cover: "From Witchcraft to World Health"

  • Title: From Witchcraft to World Health
  • Authors: Dr. Samuel Leff and Vera Leff
  • Cover illustrator/designer: Unknown
  • Publisher: The Macmillan Company. First American Printing.
  • Year: 1958
  • Original price: $4.50
  • Price at used bookstore: $8 (before discount)
  • Price online: As of this writing, copies start at $5, though there aren't many.
  • Provenance: The first page has this note: "Please return to Florence M. Lipe. Personal. Nov. 1958." This might be the same Florence.
  • Pages: 236
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Dust jacket text: "This is the story of a war — an unceasing struggle that commenced in the beginning of time. A war that has been, and is still being, fought not to destroy life but to save it. It is a far cry from the primitive cures of the tribal medicine-mean to international acceptance of the declaration of the World Heath Organization that the primary function of medicine is prevention, not cure. In this history of healing through the ages the authors have rendered a valuable service to the layman in the provision of a popular and comprehensive survey of man's unrelenting fight against disease."
  • Acknowledgement: "Our thanks are due to the Wellcome Historical Medical Library for their assistance in choosing and in making available many of the illustrations in this book."
  • First sentence: "The story of medicine is the story of man: man's most constant problem has always been how to keep alive."
  • Last paragraph: "Imperceptively, the revolution in medicine will come about, and with it the revolution in the health of all peoples. It has taken man millions of years to progress from the fear of witchcraft to the hope of world health; and from the first glimpse at the future it need take only a generation or two to reach the fulfilment of that hope: a world of healthy, happy people at peace."
  • Harsh excerpt from 1958 review in American Journal of Sociology: "The Leffs have attempted a popular history of medicine and have achieved no great success because of a tendency toward oversimplification..."
  • Notes: From biographical notes on the dust jacket, we learn that Dr. Samuel Leff was also a Barrister-at-Law and had experience with general practice and tuberculosis. Co-author Vera Leff "travelled widely with her husband to study health services in other countries. As a writer she has a number of short stories to her credit and has written on health problems from the lay point of view for various women's and other periodicals."

Postcard: Dan J. Pierce is having a swell time

This tinted postcard featuring some unidentified raging river rapids was postmarked on August 24, 1936, in Louisville, Kentucky, and mailed to an address in Irvington, New Jersey.

On that same date, Nazi Germany increased the duration of compulsory military service from one year to two, and the Philadelphia Phillies, in the midst of a dreadful season, were traveling from Brooklyn to Chicago, where they would be swept by the Cubs.

The diagonally written message on the back states:
Howdy! I'm on my vacation and having a swell time. If you need anything while I'm away the folks at our office will take care of you. Hope to see you when I get back.
Best wishes —
Dan J. Pierce

As you can see, the message is written in deep blue ink, followed by the name Dan J. Pierce in a difference pen and style of lettering. I almost wonder if the generic deep-blue message was pre-printed onto the card. More likely, I reckon, a secretary with nice handwriting wrote all the messages in advance and Pierce just added his name and perhaps his clients' addresses so he could send cards more easily from his vacation site.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Montoursville 2018:
Our first house

The house on Mulberry Street where we lived in the early 1970s, as photographed in July 2018.

Our family's first house in Montoursville was on Mulberry Street, as in the Dr. Seuss book. We lived there from 1971 until at least the summer of 1975 (but not much later than that, I believe). I was born in December 1970 and so, as you might imagine, this is the house that I have the fewest memories of. It's also the house that's the "toughest" for me to find when traveling back to Montoursville, because it doesn't have a level of familiarity or a sense of fixed geography that jumps out to me, like our other two houses.

In fact, as I mentioned earlier, I actually identified the wrong Mulberry Street house during my first walk through the streets this summer. But I checked in with Dad, and he set me straight. The house pictured at the top of this post was, indeed, our first house.

It's a modest home, once a parsonage, in the western half of town, where the houses are packed together more tightly than elsewhere. An alley — Montoursville is delightfully full of them — runs to the left of the house. Here's a closer look at the present-day front porch and the back of the house...

The backyard area has changed greatly, as will tend to happen over four-plus decades. That deck was not present during my childhood; we just had a big (to me) and long backyard, stretching down the alley. Here are some photographs of me in that 1970s version of the yard...

Mom and me

Me and my grandmother, Helen Chandler Adams Ingham (1919-2003)

I have already written about most of my memories of this house, in a post that appeared here on April 21 of this year, before I knew I was going to be writing this series. So rather than repeating or reinventing that material, I would direct you there to learn just a little about my bedroom, my shenanigans and backyard bats.

I don't really have other memories, except for a vague recollection of the trauma of having a splinter pulled from finger and a hazy episode involving a playmate across the street who was grounded because he/she tried to cross Mulberry Street without his/her parents' permission.

But I do have some more new-to-the-blog photos of the interior...

Me, in amazing pants, and my younger sister Adriane

Me with my grandmother Helen (aka "Beembom") again.
The fryer on the stove made amazing fried chicken.

That final photo also includes some very early "ephemera by Chris" on the walls. It's long gone now, but we have these photos! Isn't that a lovely paramecium I drew?

One final note and story. One day I wandered off with a playmate to the house next door, spending some time hanging out in the first-floor kitchen. I did not, apparently, tell my mother about this plan, which sent her into an extreme panic and certainly got me into a bit of trouble. I can remember being inside that airy next-door house. The memories probably remain because it was a rare "new place" for young me, and because the end result was a scolding. Here's what that (gorgeous) house next door looked like this summer...

Monday, September 3, 2018

From 1941: Win a Beautiful Pedigreed Puppy

This advertisement for a contest appears on the inside back cover of the June 1941 issue of Children's Play Mate Magazine, which published its first issue in June 1929 and was known for its phenomenal illustrated covers.

Here's the full text from the promotion:
Win a Beautiful Pedigreed Puppy
In this Exciting Contest!
(but first let us tell you about
the little girl, merry and gay!)

A little girl, merry and gay
Had a birthday on the 14th of May,
When they brought in her present
She said, "My! How Pleasant!"


What was the present? Did she say anything more? Add a last line to rhyme with "gay" and make the poem complete!

Then send it with your name, age and full address to

The Contest Editors
Children's PLAY MATE Magazine
Cleveland, Ohio

before July 15, 1941.

That's all! The neatest and best lines will win the prizes!

First Prize
A beautiful pedigreed Boston Terrier puppy like the one shown in the picture — a real live pet shipped free to your home!
(Or, if you prefer, you may have his value in money).

Other Prizes
Ten one-year subscriptions to your favorite magazine, Children's PLAY MATE!


It's easy — it takes only a little while — and
YOU May be a Winner!
The previous month's Children's Play Mate contest was school-based and had the theme of "I Love America." The first prize of $20 was won by the Lincoln School in District 87 of Allen, Nebraska. That classroom had just nine pupils and was headed by Miss Leona Anderson (possibly this woman, who lived from 1922 to 2015).

Sunday, September 2, 2018

1907 postcard with mice and Robert Burns poetry

This postcard from 111 years ago (the year John Wayne, Katherine Hepburn and Burgess Meredith were born) features an illustration (by someone with the initials M.D.S.) of two mice and a half-loaf of bread. That caption on this 1907 card states:


Those are essentially lines from Robert Burns'1 1782 poem "Comin' Thro' the Rye." I write "essentially" because the poem comes in multiple versions and was later used for a popular song, with the lyrics becoming further modified and tangled over the decades. Some versions contain varying levels of sexual imagery, some of them even rising to the level of what we might today consider an R rating. The poem's lyrics also inspired the title of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, more than 150 years after Burns had shed this mortal coil.

This card was postmarked on June 19, 1908, and mailed with a green, one-cent Benjamin Franklin stamp. It was mailed to a Miss Coakley in Broadway, Virginia, a small town in the northern part of the state. It was mailed from Nokesville, Virginia, which is about 80 miles east of Broadway (but that's if you go straight over a pair of mountain ranges).

The message, in fading pencil and cursive, states:
Nokesville, Va.
June 18, 08
Dear Friend —
How is times over there in "Rotten-Ham"2
You ask me who Una's fellow is. it is John King.
The king and the queen ha.
Who is yours? I haven't got any.
Come over and see us.
From a Friend.

1. Robert Burns had some cool nicknames, including Rabbie Burns, the Bard of Ayrshire and the Ploughman Poet. He also fathered at least 10 children before his death at age 37. His multiple affairs certainly led to children whose true parentage was never recorded.
2. "Rotten-Ham" must refer to Rockingham County, which is where Broadway is located. It certainly seems like a pejorative, in this usage.